Brands are empty containers of meaning. Companies have a meaning they want the consumer to believe, and consumers develop meaning through interactions, both good and bad, with the brand. Check out this child’s view of brands:
What’s fascinating here is that this child has a clear view of brands she’s interacted with. She has assigned completely different meaning than the one intended to brands with which she has little experience. The brand is empty of meaning until we fill it.
If you use branding as an analogy to leadership, this suggests that leadership is “empty” until both leaders and followers create meaning through a relationship or experience with each other. But note, that the meaning is created by both the leader AND the followers. So understanding how your followers view you is critical to developing a successful leadership relationship. This is easier when you lead a small group, but how does one gain insight when leading a huge group? Politicians use polls. But how do we create insight into our followers when leading organizations?
By talking to your followers. Not just the followers who report to you directly, but by engaging followers at all levels through the organization. Which means getting out of your office and meetings. It means dropping your status symbols. Being down to earth and approachable. Often leaders don’t learn much about how followers view them, because of the followers’ fear of retribution. Accepting feedback from followers about your approach to leading is painful but critical. Self-awareness is one of the most difficult aspects of leadership.
Take a look at your calendar. Find a time when you can get out of the board room and walk a mile in the shoes of your more distant followers. Learning how they see you can help you built better leadership relationships.